SBCAN Editorials

  • A compulsive walker’s view of Santa Maria

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on September 10, 2015:

    On Aug. 11, 2014, wanting to learn more about my adopted city, I said to myself, I am going to walk the length of every public street and pathway in Santa Maria.

    I set simple rules — do it in a year, don’t use a car to get to or from a walk, and keep a few photos and notes about pedestrian safety or other transportation issues encountered. I made some other observations as well.

    I finished on Aug. 10 of this year, with just a few hours to spare. Jeanne Sparks was there in front of City Hall to record my final 100 yards and a few comments, which I will mention at the end of this column.

    There are 250 centerline miles of city-maintained streets, plus several miles of Caltrans roads — Main Street and Broadway — and a few miles of paths. It took me 54 walks and 322 miles.

    Smelled: Bacon cooking, strawberries growing and being picked, fertilizer, and oil production. Burned rubber on North Blosser early on a Sunday morning, a section of road that need not be four lanes wide.

  • Making buildings accessible benefits all

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on August 13, 2015:

    On July 24, the panoramic views from the observation deck of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse clock tower became accessible to all. For the first time, the elevator reached the top, following a seven-month tower renovation project.

    Previously, the elevator stopped one floor below the deck, allowing access only to those who could handle the steep stairs.

    Santa Maria resident Barry Stotts played a major role in making the courthouse more accessible. In the early 1990s, county Supervisor Tom Rogers — now deceased — initiated the effort to get the elevator extended to the observation deck. Stotts was, and is, an advocate for people with mobility and visual impairments. The board listened to his suggestions about courthouse accessibility and developed improved access.

    Stotts is legally blind. He began losing his vision when he was in high school and can now only see light or dark, but that hasn’t stopped him. He began advocating for better access when he was in his 30s. He turns 74 next month and continues his advocacy work.

  • Long-term planning for water supply

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on July 10, 2015:

    Santa Maria, Orcutt, Nipomo, Oceano, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach all depend on the Santa Maria Valley groundwater basin for municipal water supplies.

    In spite of this common water source, there is no single authority to manage the basin. Instead, the basin is divided into three management areas — Santa Maria Valley, Nipomo Mesa and Northern Cities.

    According to the Nipomo Community Services District, “Water use has been climbing for decades, exceeding the sustainable supply. As a result of increasing use and drought, groundwater levels are in severe condition. As groundwater levels fall below sea level, it threatens seawater intrusion, potentially contaminating the groundwater with salt.”

    The Northern Cities Management Area gets a majority of its water from Lopez Lake, but the groundwater levels are dropping, especially near the coast. The annual report on groundwater conditions in that area last April also expressed concern about current conditions creating “... an environment for increased risk of sea water intrusion.”

    A rather different conclusion is reached in the annual report dated last April 15, prepared for the Santa Maria Valley Management Area, namely that “... there is no severe water shortage in the SMVMA as of 2014.”

  • Spill — disaster, no big deal or wake-up call?

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on June 12, 2015:

    Many observers, including me, say the Refugio oil spill is a local environmental and financial disaster. On the extreme other hand, one columnist wrote in the Times that the biggest cost of the incident would be the loss of $25,000 worth of crude oil.

    As of June 3, more than 40 miles of coast had been fouled with oil, and 138 square miles closed to fishing. Two popular state beaches had closed, and 173 dead animals collected — 115 birds, 46 sea lions and 12 dolphins. Another 100 animals have been affected. This clearly is a local environmental disaster.

    With nearly 1,400 workers, 18 boats and two helicopters on the scene as of May 29 according to the Times, the cleanup costs alone must be in the millions. Then there is lost tourism revenue and other costs. Although many of these loses may ultimately be paid by the pipeline company, the short-term economic impacts are huge.

    People can debate whether the Refugio spill is a disaster or an incident, but I want to suggest a couple of other scenarios that would be disasters in anyone’s lexicon — an oil train crash on the Union Pacific mainline in one of our cities or on the coast, and a pipeline spill contaminating our water supplies.

  • North County heroes will be honored

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on May 7, 2015:

    The Poetic Justice Project is helping people transform their lives.

    Deborah Tobola started the local program in 2009 to engage formerly incarcerated youth and adults in original plays that examine crime, punishment and redemption.

    Through the project, 87 actors have appeared in 12 theatre productions. Many are active in their communities — creating art, mentoring at-risk youth, counseling people coming out of jail and prison, advocating on behalf of indigent people, and studying at Hancock or Cuesta colleges.

    Several PJP actors have gone on to act in local community theatre productions. One started a theatre company. Another stars in a new web TV show.

    Santa Barbara County Action Network will honor Tobola and the Poetic Justice Project with the Looking Forward Award during the 2015 North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, June 7, at 5 p.m. at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

  • Honoring North County community heroes

    This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on May 6, 2015:

    Lompoc resident Al Thompson is a purveyor of ideas with two major themes — artistic endeavor and the elements of the natural world. He is an arts advocate, gardener, writer and volunteer docent.

    Thompson has interpreted Chumash uses of native plants and became the garden historian at La Purisima Mission. He encouraged exploration of wildflowers and plants along the mission trails, eventually having one of the trails named after him.

    He writes columns for the Lompoc Valley Botanic & Horticultural Society as well as commentary for the Lompoc Record. He has written columns on sustainability, encouraging the idea that gardens can be practical and artistic.

    He is a docent at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve where he leads hiking tours and explains the importance of natural habitats. His own garden is open for the sharing of ideas, including how to economically collect large quantities of rainwater for the drier periods.

    Santa Barbara County Action Network will honor Thompson with the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award during the 2015 North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, June 7, at 5 p.m. at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria.

  • Giving the downtown area an identity

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on April 9, 2015:

    The city of Santa Maria is trying to create a more attractive downtown. Let’s create something that will draw people in — a water feature with a tower and artwork to attract residents and tourists. Perhaps we could daylight a creek.

    According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, “Creek daylighting refers to projects that uncover and restore creeks, streams, and rivers previously buried in underground pipes and culverts, covered by decks, or otherwise removed from view.”

    We don’t think of our city as having creeks, because the natural waterways have been diverted, but it could.

    Daylighting has been happening a lot around the country and the world. The city of San Luis Obispo restored San Luis Obispo Creek near the mission in the 1970s. A culvert was taken out, the creek widened, and native trees were planted to provide shade, food and habitat.

  • Safer streets for cyclists, pedestrians

    This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on March 18, 2015:

    Do you ride a bicycle? Do you walk around town? Do you feel like your streets are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians?

    The state encourages cities and counties to make streets safer and more accessible so more people will choose to ride or walk as a transportation alternative.

    The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) is in the middle of a planning process to bring together the plans created by Santa Barbara County and cities to create the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

    SBCAG staff will hold a workshop Wednesday, March 25, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Casa Nueva, 260 N. San Antonio Road in Santa Barbara, to solicit input and feedback. They will talk about the planning process, conduct roundtable discussions to hear from the public, and answer questions.

  • Speaking up for better, safer bikeways

    This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on March 12, 2015:

    I love to bike, especially since I got my new, candy-apple-red, electric-power-assisted beach cruiser.

    It is comfortable and fast. I am using it as an alternative to my car. I find myself a little intimidated, however, by some narrow streets in town, debris on the sides of roads, and the proximity of the rapidly moving traffic next to me. I also know Santa Maria has a lot of collisions involving cyclists, some of them fatal.

    I’d really like to feel safe on the streets. That’s where planning comes in. Cities, Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) all create documents on how to improve safety and accessibility to the streets and paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. They have many projects planned, and they need to keep them updated.

    SBCAG is in the process of doing that. It is seeking public input on its Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that stitches together local plans to create a regional vision for cycling.

  • Fixing transit woes in North County

     This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on February 13, 2015:

    There are seven North County public entities that operate transit systems. Collectively, there is about $15 million available each year to subsidize the operations and capital needs of the various systems.

    Only about $10 million is being so used. The rest is diverted mainly to maintain streets and roads.

    While road maintenance is an important, under-funded need, so are the needs of people who have no choice but public transit, and those who would like to use public transit more and leave their cars at home.

    Most of the funds that can be used for public transit are distributed to cities and the county by population formulas. Yet some jurisdictions, Guadalupe in particular, have relatively small populations and relatively greater public transit needs. Others, Lompoc and unincorporated areas of North County, have larger populations and get larger shares of the transit funding.